Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage 

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Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage, Defiant Theatre, at the Viaduct Theater. Following their physically ambitious Sci-Fi Action Movie and the challenging Cleansed, the offbeat slicksters at Defiant take a step back with a relatively modest effort. Playwright "Jane Martin" does some original things with affectionate distance and matter-of-fact goriness, but Guns is eminently recognizable, drawn from that mythically kitschy, cheerfully violent gulch of western Americana located somewhere between Fool for Love and Raising Arizona. The company nails the tricky tone, and since this stuff trades on nostalgia, the familiarity isn't a problem--but the sketchy, directionless story is.

Director Linda Gillum does a great job simulating momentum, however, and the production values are up to Defiant's usual handsome standards (with special credit due to "biological FX" man Ryan Oliver). Kirsten Fitzgerald and Joy Ronstadt ground their brassy characters--retired rodeo starlet Big 8 and her gutter-punk daughter-in-law--with graceful, subtly realistic touches. Kelly Cooper and Jen Engstrom as Big 8's cowboy toy and meat-packing sister do more strenuous comic work in performances choked with aw-shucks grimace and breathless white-trash tit flash. The supporting cast hain't bad neither.

Unfortunately the first act's fuzzy plot gives way to illogic and implausibility in the second, governed entirely by uninspired "hide the body" farce. Sure, these characters are supposed to be a little slow on the draw; but by the end, the actors seem faintly puzzled by where the playwright has left them.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Krissy Shields.

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